How Useful Are Labels to Consumers?

It’s essential for shoppers to have clear, unambiguous country-of-origin labelling on food packaging. The NFU’s calls for country of origin labelling on processed dairy and meat products were echoed by Sue Davies from WhichUK, who said that it would enable consumers to make informed choices on the food they were purchasing.

Retailers generally do a good job on labelling their processed products with the origin of the meat and milk used as an ingredient, the only examples that have been found recently of own-branded products are ready meals or added value products – they are labelled with ‘chicken from the EU’. While this does comply with the regulation, it means nothing to the consumer.

One example is of two chicken breasts, which if on their own would have to be labelled by law with the country of origin. However, as they have a strip of bacon and a dollop of cheese, they are not required to include the country of origin on the label. There is more work to be done with branded manufacturers as there are many examples of pies, sliced cooked meat, sausages, yoghurts, cream cheese and cheese slices that are either not labelled or labelled with ‘from EU’.

There is a two-year trial France is running on mandatory labelling of meat and milk products. A survey in 2013 carried out in France found that 81% of consumers wanted to know where the origin of the main ingredient was from in processed products. In France they wanted to address this consumer expectation so drafted their own decree, which was published in August 2016. The decree covers milk, milk as an ingredient – yoghurt, cream, butter, cheese, etc and meat used as an ingredient – beef, pork, sheep, goat and poultry meat. It means that labelling is required for products above certain thresholds, 50% milk of all varieties in dairy products and over 8% meat.

Products processed outside of France are not subject to the scheme – so France will still get imported products without the country of origin provided. For milk products, the country of collection, packaging and processing has to be listed. The trial is only eight months in and too early on to comment on how it was going. However, manufacturers have expressed difficulties in cost and logistics of needing to change their products to meet the new rules.

80% of consumers claim they use front of pack labelling to guide their food choice. It is found that those that do use front-of-pack labelling tend to have healthier baskets. The 20% that say they don’t care tend to be lower income groups. Changing buying behaviour is very difficult. The NFU position has been that traffic light labelling is too simplistic and doesn’t take in to account additional vitamins and minerals foods can provide.